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Features Tell, Stories Sell: The Powerful Authority of Storytelling and Email Analytics Test Drive

Olia Kudanova
Features Tell, Stories Sell: The Powerful Authority of Storytelling and Email Analytics Test Drive

I’m the kind of person who has a hard time throwing certain things away. I still have my attendance journal with grades (and reproofs) from middle school, college textbooks, NSYNC posters, cassettes tapes and even a few pogs. All these things keep stories about my past.

I believe in the old adage, “Tell, don’t sell.” “I like to be sold to,” says no one ever.

Getting people to start using your product is hard. Making them understand why it will make their lives easier is even harder.

Successful products convey a powerful narrative about their features using verbs, instead of just adjectives – they talk about what their features can do for you.

Instagram isn’t just a camera app with a newsfeed, it’s the home for visual storytelling for everyone. Simple isn’t just a bank with a goals feature, it empowers your everyday financial decision making and it's a way to solve all your banking woes. Evernote isn’t just a notepad with text recognition, it’s a “workspace for your life’s work.”

Often these stories touch on pain points: “Sending money to friends is hard, Square Cash fixes that.” Sometimes they tie into emotions: “Facebook connects you to your friends.” These companies’ stories aren’t just about what their products do, but instead, they’re about how their products make users’ lives easier.

Consider this: refining the pitch of your product’s description will turn the blank stares into “I get that.”

Dr. Dre Knows Best, Google

Google Glass failed. Not because its technology isn’t distinguishing. It is; computers are the future. According to Ian Altman“Google Glass failed to help consumers understand why they need such a device.” Personally, I think it failed because its management doesn't understand fashion. Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine made 350 million dollars in 2011 selling headphones – historically a commodity product – by turning them into a fashion accessory.

Fashion is my profession.

Fashion businesses don’t sell better products, they sell emotions. No one buys Beats because they want to listen to music; they can buy something for half the price if they want. (And Beats aren’t that great, really.) People want Beats because they’re in vogue and they make them feel like a boss. Selling fashion is all about selling a feeling, not a utility.

Beer and puppies.

It’s not every day that a beer commercial tugs at my heartstrings. But Budweiser’s Super Bowl commercial does it every time I watch it.

Forget the fact that Anheuser-Busch’s 60-second video (which cost about $4 million) aired close to the end of a mediocre championship game that was over before halftime. The Budweiser ad racked up top spots in USA Today’s Ad Meter and Hulu’s Ad Zone as a favorite among viewers. The allure of shiny vehicles, CGI tricks, and David Beckham’s six pack were left in the dust.

Good ol’ storytelling.

In a research paper published in the Fall 2014 issue of The Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, professor Quesenberry and his research partner Michael Coolsen studied plot development in commercials.

They found that, regardless of the content of the ad, the structure of that content predicted its success.

“People are attracted to stories,” Quesenberry says, “because we’re social creatures and we relate to other people.”  This statement is also backed by talented professor and scientist Paul J. Zak. And it’s no surprise. We humans have been communicating through stories for centuries, even back when our news feeds were cave walls.

According to Quesenberry, the most successful ads are the ones that use Freytag’s Pyramid – a dramatic structure that can be traced back to Aristotle.

the pyramid

The “Best Buds” story also uses these components to a great effect. The more of the acts each version of the ad had, the better it performed, research says.

The Midas Touch

So, how do you apply this to your marketing?

It doesn’t matter how great a product is; without an explanation it means nothing. Associating your product with a story is incredibly powerful because we naturally remember a good story and we are more likely to share it with others. For instance, introducing a product in an email through a story can be another way of “unboxing,” which will establish your brand’s credibility.

So I browsed the 20 million database of the brand spanking new SEMrush Email Analytics prototype to see how I can relate all this philosophizing to email marketing.

Entice with Benefits


Urban Daddy is stellar when it comes to top-notch email content. Each email of its Perks series is carefully crafted into a short, yet very compelling story. This one invites you to be a part of it. How can you resist co-starring with David Hasselhoff?

See what other stories Urban Daddy got to tell using our Email Analytics prototype here.

Visualize the Difference


Are you really willing to make sacrifices while traveling to the beautiful city of Chicago?

Orbitz encourages you to preserve your sanity and invites you to play a game. It shows the difference between a good and a not-so-good choice. Would you rather have a nice room with special services at your full disposal or a couch to crash on while your friendly host is sneaking around at night hitting the kitchen cabinets?

Orbitz’s most active newsletter days, the number of messages sent per week and other interesting stats are brought to you by our new prototype and are presented here.

Tell a Story – Straight Up


There’s something intimate about sharing a story with someone. This generous gesture created by TOMS bridges the educational gap between whoever receives this email and the company. Not only does it tell a story that describes the problem the company is addressing, it justifies why the product is about more than just shoes.

It’s simple; it’s sincere; it’s brilliant. It cuts through rational barriers with clarity.

Browse here to find more involving stories by TOMS.

Stir the Imagination


Convincing people they need your online service requires strategic thinking. “I’ve always wanted to learn a different language, but, man, ain’t nobody got time for that!” We’ve all heard this before. But with Babbel, now you have no excuses as it explains where and how you can make use of your spare time. Every minute counts, so why not spend your 15-minute subway ride learning a new language?

Got inspired by Babbel’s example of storytelling? Find more great examples.

Draw Parallels

In some ways, learning SEO is like going on a first date — the two of you will either have chemistry or you won’t! Luckily, our SEMrush GURU is here to make sure you and SEO hit it off right from the start!

semrush guru

guru 2

Computers will never be human. But the digital world has its own code of conduct. In one of our promotional emails, I related three behavioral patterns common to human relationships to the world of SEO.Some of us have surely come across situations like these. Well, it’s the same with all websites on the net: it’s hard to be on your own; you need someone to be there for you. Someone like SEMrush Guru projects.

Wrap Up

Storytelling may seem like an old-fashioned maneuver nowadays, but that’s precisely what makes it so influential. Life exists in the stories we tell one another. A story can reach where quantitative analysis is denied access: our hearts. Data can convince people, but it doesn’t inspire, encourage or motivate them to act. To do that, you need to share your concept through a story that excites their imagination and stirs their soul.

P.S. Your feedback has always been valuable.Contribute to creating a new digital marketing community by telling us what you think.

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PR Manager, SEMrush
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what a pity that there's no email tool any more...